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Italy Volume I: The Sangro to Cassino

Appendix II — A Report on Tunnels at Cassino

page 357

Appendix II
A Report on Tunnels at Cassino

Reports on an underground system of communications in and around the town constitute one of the minor mysteries of the second battle of Cassino. These reports gathered interest when it became apparent that efforts of the New Zealand Corps to seal Cassino were failing to prevent the reappearance of enemy infantry in the town, even in areas thought to have been cleared. Some of the senior commanders in the corps were puzzled to account for the enemy's ability to supply and reinforce his forward troops and were inclined to believe that he was using tunnels. Two of them found their way, as ‘reported tunnels’, on to a map of Cassino overprinted with enemy defences based on air photographs as of 20 March 1944. However, the German corps commander (General Senger), though admitting he had heard of the existence of the tunnels, denied (in a letter to the author dated 11 November 1954) that the Germans had made tactical use of them.

Two Italian civilians who left Cassino in September and October 1943 respectively told of the existence of four tunnels, but disclaimed any knowledge of their existing state or the enemy's use of them. The following details were given in the report on their interrogation, which may be conjecturally dated not later than 19 March 1944:


Tunnel with entrance in Palazzo Colella (Hotel des Roses). Entrance is through a door on the right of the main entrance passage to the building. The tunnel is approx 3 ft wide and 6 ft high, with a dry, firm bottom and fairly level. Civilian was last in the tunnel on 4 October 1943. He has not been right through but understands that the exit is within the Colosseum and on the northern side.


Tunnel with entrance in Monastery. A door on the left just through the main entrance leads down through the rooms of St. Benedict to the tunnel entrance. The tunnel is about 5 ft 6 in high and 4 ft wide, with a firm bottom. Civilian has been in the tunnel but only for a short distance. He understands that the exit is close to that of tunnel 1.


Tunnel from the foot of Pt 193 to the Castle. Entrance is made through two holes in the hillside about 150 metres up the secondary road which runs from the school … along the northern slope of Pt 193. These holes can be seen from the road and were used as an air-raid shelter. The first exit is at the foot of the cylindrical corner of the castle wall at the east end. From here the tunnel leads on to an exit at the foot of the main tower of the castle. This exit consists of three openings in the terrace floor at the foot of the tower all closed by stones. Civilian had often been through this tunnel as far as the castle wall. It varied in height and width but at the lowest point could be passed in a stooped position.


Tunnel from the Monastery to the Castle. Neither civilian had been in this tunnel as it was kept a secret by the monks. The entrance was stated to be through a door in the ‘Archivis’ of the Monastery library and the exit within the Castle. No details are known of its size, etc.